January's comic book sales numbers ultimately meant a month of mixed blessings for DC Comics. While sales for comics as a whole were up from the same month in 2012, that came with the caveat that January 2013 had an extra week of products shipping to comic shops. And though DC itself landed many high-ranking titles in the top ten of both the periodical and graphic novels sold in comic shops, they still lost overall market share to Marvel.
Combine that high charting performance for DC's top titles with the news that the publisher was also canceling a number of lower-selling titles, and it left plenty to talk about with DC SVP of Sales Bob Wayne and SVP of Marketing John Cunningham.
In their regular monthly chat with CBR, the pair were quick to note that more titles were on the way to fill the void in the New 52 left by departing books like "Savage Hawkman" and "Firestorm." And the executives also spoke highly of plans to expand the Superman franchise is book stores, comic shops and digital platforms as DC Entertainment and Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" gets ready to debut in theaters. Alongside discussion of DC's overall chart performance and our exclusive look at their digital sales rankings, that makes for some interesting news as the numbers for 2013 start to take shape.
CBR News: Gentlemen, we often open these discussions by looking back at the recent sales data, but since this interview is happening just after some DC cancellations, I have to start by looking forward. In the past when New 52 titles have been dropped, there have been other comics to replace them in the line. With the loss of six titles this month and no immediate successors, people have been wondering whether that bar of 52 titles will still be adhered to moving forward.
John Cunningham: I think what you're talking about is that trend that happens all the time where people like to pass judgement on one announcement without waiting for the next announcement. Every time we've announced that we've cancelled titles, it's been followed pretty quickly with a list of new titles that are coming. So believe me, I'm an inquisitive mind, and I get the desire to look at one tea leaf and see the flow of the universe. But I don't think this is that difficult. This is a pattern that we've used for the cancellation and solicitation of new series from the moment we started the New 52.
Overall, what kind of lessons have you learned throughout the various waves of cancellations and launches? I get the feeling that the last wave of new titles like "Vibe" and "Katanna" were positioned with a much closer connection to the expected big launch of "Justice League of America" - even so far that they have the JLA name in their own titles. Is that an indicator of how new books will be launched within franchises in the future?
Cunningham: I think that's something you'll just see with these particular series. It was a stratagem of wanting to introduce the Justice League of America and realizing that the characters we wanted to put in there gave us opportunities for expansion. I wouldn't look at it as a portent for how this will be done in the future. It was specific to this particular title and starting a Justice League of America franchise. Where we tend to come down is creating strategies that suit whatever Editorial has given us at any moment in time. In other words, just because we did it for "Justice League of America," that doesn't mean we'll do it again.
Looking at the January sales numbers, the books DC has landed in the top ten of the periodical charts are mostly what we'd expect with "Batman" and "Justice League," though I was surprised to see "Detective Comics" again joining those ranks. Is this due to the "Death of the Family" tie-in, or do you see indication that the newer team of John Layman and Jason Fabok are gaining some steam on that title?
Bob Wayne: I think it's the usual mixed bag of reasons for why some things work and some don't. Certainly, titles are helped by being tied into the "Death of the Family" overarching story. At the same time, as you point out, "Detective" seems to be on an uptick right now due to a creative team that's doing some interesting things as well. But it's a very competitive market. There was a whole lot of first issues published in January, which is not a traditional month for a lot of launches. We're pretty happy with how our titles are holding up in the face of all that. "Batman" and "Justice League" from the New 52 are on their sixteenth issues, and they were the #2 and #3 selling comics of the month. That's very good. That means the audience is sticking with those titles and not always necessarily trying books that are debuting that month. And we're pleased that our numbers are bigger in January than they were in December.
Let's look forward a bit because it seems like aside from more Justice League titles coming out, you've got a lot more Superman stuff on the horizon. The Free Comic Book Day special leads to Scott Snyder and Jim Lee's Superman book. There are new teams hitting the core titles. Traditionally, Batman has been a much bigger seller as a franchise. Are you looking for a way to raise the Superman titles on a different platform with a movie out this year?
Cunningham: When we think about movie tie-ins, for the most part what we think about is graphic novels because of their widespread availability and the fact that we've been able to build really successful sales there off the Chris Nolan Batman movies and even "Green Lantern" to a good extent. Our book program around "Green Lantern" sold a lot of books. Bob and I were having this discussion earlier this week in that the key difference with Superman is that the last time we had a Superman movie with "Superman Returns," I'm not sure we had that aggressive of a backlist for Superman as a character. But in the last few years between the "Superman: Earth One" graphic novels and Grant Morrison's "Action Comics" and "All-Star Superman," we have a really strong Superman backlist that we just didn't have in 2007 that we can now market off of. So for us, that's going to be the big focus of how we're going to take demand for Superman and feed it back to the public.
That's not to say that the periodical part won't succeed as well. If we're looking at the January performance on the charts where you see Batman books doing well and Avengers books doing well at Marvel, I don't think that's such a surprise given the movie landscape of last year.
There's also a new "Adventures of Superman" digital series that you just announced. We've talked in the past about things like "Smallville Season 11" and "Batman Beyond" being a good bridge for more casual fans who may not go to comic shops but do have iPads and such. This new series seems more in like with the "Legends of the Dark Knight" Batman digital comic. Does that release have a similar broad appeal? Will this Superman book bridge that gap?
Cunningham: I guess the answer to that is that we're still trying to find that out. I think there's a lot of experimentalism in what we're doing here in the best possible way. I really don't know how comfy I am talking about whether or not that tie-in will draw those same kinds of readers.
This month's digital chart seemed to discover a new connection though for non-traditional comics readers in the "Injustice: Gods Among Us" tie-in book.
Cunningham: Yes. And you've seen that digital correlation as you've seen our numbers over time. That's one of the big conclusions that we can draw is that we can get a big chunk of the gamer audience, but I'm always amazed that those books are still mixed in with the best-sellers we have in print. So what we don't know -Â and I'm not sure when or if we will know -Â is whether the people who are gamers are only buying the game properties or if that's one of many purchases they're making. This is what we're trying to discover over time as we explore this marketplace.
Has there been any indicator in the "Legends of the Dark Knight" sales on who buys that or just data that prompted an approval for a similar Superman book?
Wayne: The sales of the print version seem to be relatively unfazed from what we had projected, and the digital first sales seemed to be primarily additive. So Editorial thought it would be a good idea to do a Superman series to build off of that, and they had a lot of people asking them, "Hey, I enjoyed doing that Batman story. If you ever do a Superman one, let me know." And going into the "Man of Steel" movie window, it seemed like there would be a lot more attention on Superman. So it wasn't a tough sell for us.
As we're still at the start of 2013, what's been the battle cry for the year you have. Is there a focus within or without the New 52 that you'd like to focus on more?
Cunningham: I would say that the battle cry we have in the most broad sense of the year would be "Superman and Sandman" as that's going to be a big second half of the year push for us. In some ways, I say that and feel that I'm being reductionist in saying that. If you look at 2013 and all the formats we're trying to publish in and audiences we're trying to serve, it's still a year for growth outward. There are new markets and new readers out there, and we want to try and find a way to grow those while still keeping our core market as strong as it's been since the start of the New 52. That may not be as sexy as saying "Superman and Sandman," but it really is the lion's share of work that needs to be done.